Monsignor Joseph Garvin: Finding ‘Redemption’ at Fox Chase Cancer Center

“God bless the folks at Fox Chase Cancer Center. They’ve shown me an avenue to a new life.”
‐Monsignor Joseph Garvin

At 76, I’m in my 27th year as the pastor of Saint Christopher Church, a Roman Catholic parish in Northeast Philadelphia. Recently, you might say I had an experience of biblical proportions.

In September 2022, I had been at the funeral of one of our auxiliary bishops and was rushing to get home. I had taken the train, and when I went to get off, I tripped and fell down the last three or four steps. I was lying there and couldn’t get up, and the emergency responders came. I was so embarrassed. I didn’t want to go with them, so I promised I’d get checked out at the local emergency room when I got home.

The Discovery

At the ER, the doctor did a scan, then came in to talk to me about it. I’d had a PET scan eight and a half years before that had shown a nodule on my lung, and he said the growth had doubled, to about the size of a pencil eraser. “My advice is to go see your family doctor,” he said, so I did.

My doctor sent me for a biopsy, and sure enough, the nodule came back as cancerous. I also went for a PET scan, and basically, the scan lit up like a Christmas tree. Both my family doctor and the cancer doctor I was seeing assumed the cancer had spread. They diagnosed my cancer as stage IV lung cancer and said it was treatable but not curable.

I had four chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments. That wasn’t fun. And the treatments did absolutely no good — the doctor told me nothing had changed. “I’ve never seen this happen before,” he said.

He was ready to give me another series of four chemo treatments, and I said to him, “You know, doctor, I appreciate what you’ve done for me, but I kind of feel like it’s time for a second opinion.”

The Big Leagues

I ended up at Fox Chase Cancer Center, where I saw Dr. Hossein Borghaei, a medical oncologist specializing in lung cancer. He’s a wonderful guy who sizes up a situation and understands it lickity split. “Something’s not adding up here,” he said. And so I had additional biopsies. Every time I got a biopsy, it came back as negative. So he knew right away that something about the original diagnosis was off.

Dr. Borghaei wound up diagnosing me with only a stage I lung tumor. In early October, I had surgery to remove the growth, performed by Dr. Stacy Su, a thoracic surgical oncologist. The tumor was between two lobes of my right lung, so she removed a little bit of one lobe and a little bit of the other.

The surgery was expected to last three hours. But it lasted eight because Dr. Su saw some other growths that she wanted to test, so she took samples and had them analyzed that very day. Fortunately, there were no other malignancies. I’m thankful that Dr. Su was so thorough, but I realized that’s what you get at Fox Chase. I thought I had graduated from the minor leagues to the big leagues when I went there.

“Father, you’re discharged,” Dr. Su told me after the surgery. “You don’t have to see Dr. Borghaei anymore, unless you just want to come in and say hi to him. There are no more treatments.”

My only follow-up is with Dr. Su, just to make sure everything went well with the operation.


I’m now cancer-free. It’s hard to explain how I felt when I heard that. There’s a story in the gospels about Jesus going to the home of Mary and Martha. Their brother Lazarus had died and was in the tomb. Jesus said, “Take me to the tomb,” and he called, “Lazarus, come out,” and the dead man rose and came out.

I felt like Lazarus. I really did. The feeling I had was one of redemption. I thought, God bless the folks at Fox Chase. They’ve shown me an avenue to a new life. I just love Dr. Borghaei and Dr. Su.

Fox Chase opened doors to me that I thought for a whole year were closed. I mean, I was getting my affairs in order, I was cleaning up my will. I just figured I was a goner, you know?

A Hidden Culprit

But the story doesn’t end there. I have two artificial hips. Recently, my right hip was bothering me, so I went to my orthopedic surgeon. I was getting ready for vacation and I thought, I’m going to be walking a lot, maybe he’ll give me something for the pain.

“Father, it is possible that you have a situation here that happens only five times out of 1,000,” he told me. “There could be corrosion at the top of your artificial hip that could be causing cobalt to be put into your blood.” And sure enough, when they did the blood tests, they showed an unusually high level of cobalt.

The condition is called metallosis, and it’s rare. But the cobalt can mimic cancer on scans. That’s what led my original doctors to think the cancer had spread. And, of course, I had the lung tumor that really was cancer. They just assumed that the other things they were seeing were also cancerous. You really couldn’t blame them. I’ve since had an operation to correct the problem with my hip.

I’m just so grateful to Dr. Borghaei and Dr. Su for getting it right. I will always bless Fox Chase because they gave me a new lease on life. I didn’t start at Fox Chase, but I’m glad I ended there.

It’s been quite a year. And you know, I wake up in the morning and I’m just so happy. I thank God, and I thank the folks at Fox Chase.

Learn more about treatment for lung cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center.